There's a potentially fascinating real-time, real-world example of framing and the Sport Ethic evolving with Sammy Watkins and the Buffalo Bills.
Watkins, the receiver for whom the Bills' traded two first-round draft picks a few years ago, is reportedly going to miss several weeks due to a lingering foot injury. What makes this interesting from our perspective can be seen in the report from Manish Mehta in The New York Daily News:
The most important question now is whether Watkins can manage the pain in his foot. There was a fear on Sunday night that the wideout could miss the rest of the season before medical personnel, including renowned foot specialist Robert Anderson, advised Watkins against a surgical remedy for the issue at this time. It's possible, however, that Watkins could be shut down for several weeks — if not longer — depending on how his foot responds in the coming days.
The idea that Watkins would miss time not because of any structural injury but rather due to pain management brings up one of the core elements of The Sport Ethic (the attitudes that sociological scholarship suggests elite athletes adhere to). From researchers Jay Coakley and Robert Hughes:
Being an athlete involves accepting risks and playing through pain ... The idea is that athletes never back down from challenges in the form of either physical risk or pressure, and that standing up to challenges involves moral courage.
Think about it. The surest way for an athlete to earn respect is to play through pain. To ignore an injury. To soldier through. Michael Jordan's iconic moment may be the flu game. Jack Youngblood is famous as a football player because he played in the playoffs with a broken leg. The surest way for an athlete to lose respect is to be not play through pain. You'll be perceived as soft and weak. It will be viewed as a character flaw. Tony Kornheiser calls the Sam Bradford the human ace bandage because of Bradford's frequent injuries. Jay Cutler is mocked because he didn't play hurt in the playoffs a few years ago.
If this reporting holds true - and it was confirmed by the Buffalo News on Monday morning — it will be interesting to see the criticism Watkins receives. He already angered Bills' fans last year by referring to their "small jobs" on an Instagram post. The team paid a high price for him, possibly preventing them from finding a franchise quarterback. Add to it not playing because of "pain threshold" will not go over well in the city defined by Jim Kelly's toughness.
At the same time, it feels like there is a bit of growing acceptance toward players' health. It's not just about concussions and CTE. It's about the horrific physical toll playing football takes on these players. And there's the idea that a player should not put his long-term health in risk for short-term gain (either his own or the team's). If Watkins is not at his best, should he be forced to play because of our ideals of toughness and manhood in sports?
It will be interesting to see how this story develops.